"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Comparing African American Muslims with Immigrant Muslims

I don't know why I find this type of information interesting. I guess I like learning of others' experiences and why they think and act and believe as they do. This is a continuation of Wednesday's post about African American Muslims as told by anthropologist Akbar Ahmed in Journey Into America.  This post compares African Americans with immigrant Muslims from the Arab lands and Southeast Asia.

Most African American Muslims that the team met were - in Mr. Ahmed's opinion - very likable, outgoing and "ready to receive us with a big smile and embrace."  He contrasted this with immigrant imams who "tended to be defensive" (because of what the community had endured in recent years) and often "surly and rude to [team] members" trying to set up appointments.  One immigrant imam in Las Vegas was so "abusive" to a female team member she was in tears!   (Note: he generalized this way so maybe this was his overall impression though I am sure not all AA's were likable nor all immigrant imams bullies.)

One of the most interesting parts to me was when the black community shared how they were treated by Muslim immigrants from Arabia or Southeast Asia: "they see us through white eyes."  One lady shared how she traveled to Egypt only to be dismayed that she was treated there like she was in "mainstream America."  Many found it irritating how immigrants would criticize their Islam and tell, for example, how the African American women were not wearing their headcovering in the correct way (i.e., according to Arab culture).  Constance, one black woman, retorted that that "'reflects your culture, not mine.'"  Many folks were irritated with the way immigrants assumed that America and Islam were incompatible and when immigrants criticized the African Americans for doing certain things they considered American and not Islamic.  "Constance had an answer for this: 'I am American,' she said with pride and some attitude."

Of course the picture I chose has this AA Muslim wearing hijab the 'right' (i.e., Arab) way, I think

Besides what I mentioned above, here are some differences between the two communities that Ahmed summarized.

For African American Muslims, Islam means tackling issues of health, education, violence, drugs, and poverty.

For immigrants, by and large better educated and more prosperous than African American Muslims, Islam is about uniting the ummah, or the global community of Muslims, and rallying the world behind the suppressed Muslim minorities in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya.

For African American Muslims, Islam is a simple and functional way of life, directly related to the example of the Prophet Muhammad as a social reformer.

For immigrants, Islam is a complex, grand, overarching historical experience initiated by the Prophet and the inspiration for splendid empires and dynasties.

African American role models are mostly contemporary American figures such as Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Imam W.D. Mohammed.

Immigrant role models are mainly Arab and lived in the distant past, such as the Prophet of Islam, Umar, Ali, and Saladin.

The Islam of African Americans is arrived at through personal choice, a process of trial and error, and is valued for its own sake.

The Islam of immigrant Muslims is part of an unbroken line passing through the generations and is their inheritance.  The latter therefore take possessive ownerships of Islam with an air of superiority over other Muslims, which African American Muslims find arrogant and irritating.

Mr. Ahmed told how 9/11 had actually helped bring the two communities together. The "rich" doctors and engineer immigrants were suddenly being scrutinized by the government so they turned to the African American Muslims to help them deal with the problems black people had had from the government for generations. 

I tend to read blogs of either Muslim converts who are white and western like me or Arabs so I really enjoyed learning about African American Muslims in this chapter and how they compared to and related to immigrants who come sharing the same religion, but not necessarily understanding it and using it in the same ways.

info and quotes from chapter 4 and the first pages of chapter 5


Lat said...

Like your contrast,I would say that Indian Muslims and Arabs have differences too.I liked the way you did it.Eveyone has their own cultural ways of seeing things.It's all okay.One is not more right than the other.

Susanne said...

Yes, I've heard you say that Indian Muslims do things differently and,thankfully, doing things "the Arab way" wasn't pushed on you. It's good that different cultures can express themselves and not conform to one rigid model of people. You can have the same religious principles, but they can be applied to various people in ways that are most helpful to their community. I'm sure if and when the African Americans solve their own issues THEN they can worry about Palestinians and other oppressed Muslim groups. It's hard to care for others thousands of miles away when your family is suffering and in need of help.

Thanks for your comment!

Suroor said...

Some AA converts I have met seem very angry with a chip on their shoulder. I don't know why that happened. Maybe I just met the wrong type of people.

Susanne said...

Yes, well, if you see why many of them converted to Islam you could make the case for them being angry people. I don't know. This post was Mr. Ahmed's opinion of them.Maybe because he is Muslim, they welcomed him more than he would me, the evil white person. Maybe I'll have to do my own investigation to find out! :) I've always had good "luck" with most Arab Muslims I've met though I've not met any who live in America except online and, eh, I prefer the ones living in Arabia to be honest.

Stephanie Keith said...

you used my photo,(top one) did not ask permission and did not even credit me. That is considered theft of intellectual property and bad form. Stephanie Keith

Susanne said...

I apologize. I used to use pictures freely that I thought were pretty or applicable...you're right. I try to no longer do so. I'll delete it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Kalimah said...

I would have to say that Susanne, you should get to know African American Muslims, we do not all have a "chip" on our shoulder, nor view caucasians as :evil" you seem to have that confused with Noation Of Islam. It helps to do a bit of reading and interacting in order to get a feel for treating individauals as individuals. You would feel slighted if someone stereotyped you as a racist, deviant, loose american who is selfish and arrogant, right?. I am an African American and I love to teach and meet new people and I have been a Muslim my entire life. I did not go to prison and become a Muslim, follow a man into this deen (religion" nor do I mistreat others or group them together, Al Hamdulillah.I pray that you are able to be better informed as to what Islam entails as it is a beautiful way of life filled with true caring followers. Have a great day. Feel freeto join my page where you will meet muslims of all nationalities, respectful and kind. One Hand and I am Middle Course Muslimah.

Susanne said...

Kalimah, I never said that, did I?